It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Nice to see you again.
I just got back from Greece and I must say that:
-Greek food is of the gods and should be mandatory consumption for all planet Earth.
-Sailing in the Aegean Sea makes even the doughiest and landlocked Grown Men (I might be talking about me) feel like a trident-wielding Poseidon.
-Exploring new places is good for the soul unless you get lost — in which case, Greece doesn’t participate in the popular “street sign” method of navigation. You end up walking forever to get to a place that was one block from where you started.
-Greek people are tremendous. Well, not the one Greek guy who wouldn’t let us take a picture of him grilling an entire freaking octopus, but everyone but that dude is awesome.
-There’s nothing better than an uninterrupted week with Mrs. Grown Man (my wife).
Anyhow, it’s good to be back in the intensely jet lagged saddle and getting the opportunity to share with you something else that stood out to me whilst gallivanting around Greece — we move really freaking fast in America.
I first noticed my own Gonzales-ness when we sat down for our first Grecian meal. In Greece, the waiter wanders over at some point, asks if you’d like water, disappears for a bit, comes back with the water, leaves again, asks if you have menu questions, leaves, takes an appetizer order, leaves, brings bread, asks if you’ve decided, leaves… you get it, it’s slow. And this phenomenon doesn’t just occur at fancy restaurants where they’re trying to separate tourists from Euros, this is the norm. They just take at least an hour to eat meals, even during the work day.
The second time I noticed that Americans move too fast, or was rather told quite bluntly that we’re on cultural caffeine, was by a local man named Simon who struck up a conversation with me. By the way, Greek men actually talk to each other and converse quite freely with strangers. Anyhow, Simon and I were doing the typical vacation chit-chat where I tell him where we’ve been so far and he asks me questions about American life (“No, most of us only know English — and poorly at that.” “Yes, we have to pay taxes.” “No, we don’t generally live close to our families.” “Yes, many people work 7 days a week in New York City.”) Anyhow, he shared with me that his son had recently visited America and was shocked by the pace of our people. To quote Simon (he’s speaking wonderful English by the way): “My son says you work all the time, talk on the phone all the time, and are always go go go.” To Simon I replied (in average English), “Yep, that’s us.”
Grown Men, the Greeks have given the world a lot of great advancements over the years — philosophy, art, architecture, and the crossbow. Now they’ve given us, by way of Simon and yours truly, some important advice — we’ve got to slow down.
Get ready for an old guy statement, here we go… everything we do nowadays is fast. We multitask, we “grab a quick bite,” we value working 10+ hours at a breakneck pace, and we generally find every possible way to speed up our world. I know you’re busy, aren’t you? Yet don’t you feel like the more gadgets you acquire to save time and the more activities you squeeze into the iCal white spaces, the less actual time you have and the less you get done? In the words of Kenan Thompson, “What’s up with that!?” Here’s what’s up: going faster and doing more has diminishing returns on living a life of quality and purpose.
So what do we do? First, we acknowledge the fact that we do live in a fast freaking culture and, though two-hour siestas and evening strolls on the cliffs of Santorini would be ideal, we just don’t live in a society that always allows it. Second, because we acknowledge that there are demands on our time that are extreme, we must force margins into our life. Finally, we must guard those margins with all our might.
For example, let’s go back to the Greek (and I’m guessing rest of the world) tradition of taking longer meals: Every time MGM and I were served food, we would take a bite, make those weird mmmmm-ing noises, drink a spot of wine, and intentionally put down our forks. By habit and culture, we were going to plow through the meal and easily move on to the next activity. But, because we were doing everything we could to savor the time (and the tzatziki), we made ourselves put just the smallest margin of time around the simple, everyday activity of eating. What if you started to do the same? What if power lunches were replaced with just regular old lunches? What if the morning cup of coffee wasn’t spent in front of CNN, with a newspaper, with the laptop, but rather on the back porch just injecting 20 minutes of silence into the day? What if those small margins of time were placed strategically throughout every day? What if I stopped asking questions?
A few weeks ago, I sold my iPhone and got a free, boring one. Today, I sat with old and new friends for a one hour relaxing lunch. Tomorrow, I’m going to put away the laptop, go out in the refreshing fall air, and start building a picnic table. My encouragement to you is to do whatever needs to be done to slow down, create some pockets of free time, and enjoy life. At the end of the day, it’s not what you’ve done or how much you’ve made, it’s how well you invested in the lives of others and used the time you’ve been given.
You’re a Grown Man, slow down.